The union representing operating engineers in B.C. says anyone assembling or disassembling a construction crane should have to go through a specific, mandatory certification process because the work is extremely dangerous and often done under tight deadlines.
The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, representing people in construction and industrial shops throughout British Columbia and Yukon, made the recommendation Wednesday, two days after a crane collapsed in Kelowna, B.C., killing five people.
Four construction workers, as well as another person working in an adjacent building that was crushed when the crane came down on top of it, were killed. The body of the person in the adjacent building was recovered from the rubble Wednesday morning.
RCMP, WorkSafeBC and the BC Coroners Service are investigating the accident. Both the police and WorkSafe have declined to speculate on the cause of the accident.
The crane was being used in the construction of a 25-storey residential tower in downtown Kelowna. Two of the dead – Eric and Patrick Stemmer – were identified on social media as brothers working for Stemmer Construction Ltd., based in Salmon Arm, B.C. A former worker for one of the company’s previous projects called the construction firm a “solid, safe working company.”
Chris Manning of Abbotsford, B.C., described Eric as a nice, smart guy and a good leader. Eric was “working hard all the time, always making sure his guys were busy on top of everything. A solid man,” Mr. Manning texted through Facebook Messenger.
Andy Watson, a spokesman for WorkSafeBC, said crane operators in B.C., including those for tower cranes, must have a certificate to operate the structures. But no additional certification is required for assembly or disassembly.
Instead, he added in an e-mail, the agency’s requirement is that that work must be done by qualified persons in accordance with the instructions of the crane manufacturer or a professional engineer.
But Frank Carr, a spokesman for the IUOE, said the union believes specialized certification is required for crane assembly and dismantling.
“It’s dangerous work and it’s highly technical,” said Mr. Carr. “We’ve been lobbying for mandatory tower crane operator certification and approved safety standards for almost 20 years,” he said in an interview. “We believe it’s essential to improve the safety standards.”
B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a statement it would be inappropriate for government to speculate on the cause of the accident while multiple investigations are under way.
“Once we have those findings and understand the cause of this incident, the province will be able to take appropriate action toward ensuring something like this does not happen again,” the statement reads.
The union said in a news release the City of Vancouver implemented a number of recommendations from it and BC Crane Safety as part of a pilot project to improve tower crane safety. These include requirements for preassembly and postassembly meetings and checklists, pedestrian and cycling lane closings, and granting permit extensions and additional full days for crane assembly and dismantling to reduce pressure on workers to get the job done under tight timelines.
“Unfortunately, this incident, it shows how big of a crash zone or how big of a footprint that is encompassed when a tower crane collapses. Unfortunate for the public to learn this way,” Mr. Carr said.
“It’s a tragedy. Part of the process prior to this was to educate the public when they’re walking by these sites, what’s taking place above them and how critical and dangerous it is.”
Several GoFoundMe pages have been set up in the past few days. Other victims have been identified through the online fundraisers as 23-year-old Cailen Vilness and Jared Zook.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.